The price of progress?

With its 235 rooms, restaurant, nearly 8,000 feet of conferencespace and substantial growth potential, Portland State University’snewly-bought University Place (formerly Doubletree hotel), on 310S.W. Lincoln Street, has marked yet another step in the on-goingexpansion of PSU. However, some former employees of the Doubletreehotel say they are angered by PSU for their disregard forDoubletree employees and the stability of their jobs.

The Doubletree property was purchased by PSU in March of 2004for roughly $22.3 million. It was attained under the law of eminentdomain through a complicated condemnation process.

Former Doubletree employee Brenda Vogeltanz was one of the firstto be let go due to the condemnation of the Doubletreeproperty.

“It was just a really raw deal for all of us because we all gotlaid off,” said Vogeltanz, who was employed as a sales manageruntil she received the news two days before Christmas. She hasn’tfound a job since.

“It was a really rotten Christmas for everyone,” said Vogeltanzabout herself and her former co-workers, of whom she estimated 95percent were laid off “without any compensation whatsoever.”

When asked about this estimate, Julie North, the Directory ofAuxilery Services at PSU, said, “I wouldn’t have any knowledge ofhow many (employees) left.” However, in PSU’s defense, she did say,”We tried to hire as many people that previously worked there aspossible.”

PSU first appealed to the Portland Development Commission backin August of 2003 for approval to condemn the building. At thismeeting, according to PDC internet records, PSU President DanielBernstine discussed three main points concerning the university’sneed for student housing and their plans for the property:

1. PSU growth during the last 8-10 years has been significantand has put a strain on PSU infrastructure and reduced theuniversity’s ability to recruit national and internationalstudents.

2. The proposed Lincoln Street property will provide housing forPSU students, faculty and staff, academic space, recreationopportunities, and some taxable uses, potentially retail.(Low-income housing for faculty would be provided which would helpachieve affordable housing goals in the District.)

3. PDC will use condemnation to acquire this property on behalfof PSU.

PSU then went to the State Board of Education to request $25million in bonds to go towards the purchase of the property.

Vogeltanz said that when PSU received approval for thecondemnation, Boykin Management, who owned the property, promisedto retain the jobs of the Doubletree employees. “They kept ontelling us, ‘We’ll fight it, we’ll fight it, don’t worry aboutit,'” she said. Vogeltanz then went on vacation with the beliefthat Boykin would do as they had promised, only to return to findthat she had lost her job.

Vogeltanz was angered further when PSU revealed that they didnot intend on using the property for student housing rightaway.

“It became clear in January, when PSU started making plans forthe hotel, its intentions were not to turn it into student housing.(Associate Vice President for Finance and Planning) Cathy Dyck toldthe then-General Manager, Grace Lial, they never intended to runthe building with student housing – they had too much housing as itwas,” she said.

Vogeltanz said that she is the only former Doubletree employeethat has come forward against PSU because the other employees arestill employed by Boykin and they fear the consequences of speakingout. “They don’t want to lose their jobs,” she said.

PSU’s intentions for this building and property remain unclear.In May, Dyck told the Vanguard that PSU planned on turning theproperty into a multi-use academic structure, complete withconference space and housing for students and alumni once thebuilding generates enough revenue.

In a more recent interview, Dyck said that the building will notbe used for dorms or student housing unless absolutely necessary.She went on to say that with the establishment of two new studenthousing buildings, the Broadway and Epler buildings, more rooms arenot needed.

“Right now we have a vacancy rate,” Dyck said, “so we can’t dostudent housing.”

Dyck was enthusiastic about the future of the building andstudent housing at PSU. “We told admissions that we could guaranteehousing to students,” Dyck said, “that’s something that we’ve neverbeen able to do.”